Nick Egleson: Peter Dale Scott, who's with me today, has just finished writing a book, The War Conspiracy, which is just about to be published on the 15th of this month. And it's subtitled, The Secret Road to the Second Indochina War. It's an account of many of the intrigues that have led, not only to the Vietnam war, but other wars in Indochina, other parts of that war. It touches on the Korean war and it is a ... One of the first in depth studies of many of the connections, both inside the government to different government agencies and to business that are involved in the causes of the wars in Laos and in Vietnam. Peter has your view of what the causes of the Vietnam War changed as you've written this book over the last three years?
Peter Dale Scott: It certainly broadened and opened out. I began by being interested in intelligence agencies, and in what I thought was a dangerous centralization of power, in that you have not only the power to report on what's happening out there but also through operations, the power actually to generate political actions out there, to topple government through coup d'état. And on occasion to ferment guerrilla wars in remote areas like Northeastern Laos and so on. So that was my focus at the beginning, was to look at intelligence operations. Particularly on the operations side. And since then, I was very interested in the Tonkin Gulf incident, for example. The book grew out of an in-depth study of the Tonkin Gulf incident, where you had a destroyer on an intelligence mission, the the Maddox, you had 34 A operations, these South Vietnamese swift boats, which were attacking the islands off North Vietnam at the same time, you had unmarked planes flying in, Air America planes flying in from Laos or Thailand to bomb villages in that Area of North Vietnam at the same time.
All of this was intelligence. And the finally the importance of the radio intercepts, which were used to convince the Washington administration that a second Tonkin Gulf incident had in fact occurred, you know there's quite a dispute as to whether there really was a second Tonkin Gulf incident which was the occasion for the first bombing of North Vietnam. I think Senator Fulbright has now concluded there wasn't a second Tonkin Gulf incident, yet you had these radio intercepts from the intelligence personnel, which proved that there was a second incident. So that was the kind of problem that I was interested at the beginning. But it's such a complex story, and I apologize for the reader for the complexity of the story, that you find it opening out to involve economic interests. The remnants of the Kuomintang Chiang Kai-Shek's is not so much within Taiwan, but the connections he had with oversees Chinese communities throughout Southeast Asia.
Nick Egleson: I think one of the things that intrigued me most about the book was, the picture of the war conspiracy as, at least some of the time, a conspiracy by some element of government against others.
Peter Dale Scott: Yes I believe that was the case.
Nick Egleson: Is it accurate to say, do you think that not only are the intelligence activities the trigger, but things are so sensitive. The content of one radio telegram can determine whether something is an attack or an defensive reaction that is, in the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. That intelligence really plays a balance role, that's not quite the right word for it. That therefore, their contact, as you document with Air America, with narcotics, with the Kuomintang, are much more important than the weight of any one inter corporate lock might suggest, because of the very borderline position that intelligence plays?
Peter Dale Scott: Yes I would add to that that I think there are particularly important at what you might call, critical periods. You reach a point where the government is at an impasse, and you have a faction and incidentally, you have intelligence people in both factions. Not all intelligence operators are hawks. That's not the conclusion of my book. But you have an impasse in the government. The government of South Vietnam is not working it. Maybe about to fall. There are some people who say, "we've got to escalate, to reassure the people in Saigon that we're serious." You also have some other people, and this may include some intelligence people, who are saying, "it's time to cut our losses and find out some way to get out of there." And it's in these moments of impasse where the government is at loggerheads with itself that the control over information becomes the control over polices.
Nick Egleson: How is that operative in the Tonkin Gulf situation?
Peter Dale Scott: I think it was operative really from the middle of 1963 right through to early '65, in that there was still resistance in Washington, to the idea of bombing North Vietnam, particularly the idea of bombing North Vietnam without any visible provocation and particularly of course, in an election year. Johnson was all set to run as the peace candidate in 1964 so it's understandable that all kinds of people were reluctant to bomb North Vietnam at that time and I think that the administration was pushed into bombing North Vietnam by the flow of information before and also the control of information after the alleged attack.
Nick Egleson: What are the forces that did that and how did they operate?
Peter Dale Scott: What I'm trying to do in the book is not so much to identify the criminal as to demonstrate the existence of the crime. There are many people who will believe that the Tonkin Gulf thing was a mess, that it was confused. They'll even concede that there was no second Tonkin Gulf incident but they'll have a whole book written this way, that suggests it was and an unfortunate accident and proves the difficulty of controlling the massive Pentagon. I'm suggesting that it was no accident. But you're asking me to identify who the man was.
Nick Egleson: Oh I didn't mean it in that sense. I was thinking about for instance, you argue in the book that two of the cables which were crucial cables, were in fact not relevant to the second Gulf of Tonkin incident. They were someway held over from the first. Is that accurate?
Peter Dale Scott: That's not my discovery that's from a very useful book by Anthony Austin, called The President's War. He I think, shows pretty conclusively in that book that the intercepts that were used to force the government to retaliate to the second Tonkin Gulf incident, were in fact ... They were in a sense true, except that they were information not about the second incident on August 4th, but about the first incident on August 2nd.
Nick Egleson: To which it had already been decided not to have a retaliatory action against the North Vietnam.
Peter Dale Scott: Yes. If you're asking who'd done it, so to speak, I'm very interested that radio intercept information - a special kind of intercept activity was responsibility the army security agency in South Vietnam. We know that from the Pentagon papers. And when we see that radio intercepts played a vital and very dubious role, not only in the Tonkin Gulf incidents, but also in other episodes. The Cambodian invasion, for example in 1970. You had another of these impasses over Cambodia. There were people arguing, including some intelligence people arguing very strongly that there was no need for the United States to go into Cambodia and the fact ... the issue was where the whole sort of Viet Cong apparatus had it's headquarters and the army was claiming that there was a concrete bastion, a sort of pentagon building for the other side in Cambodia. Some of the civilians were arguing that there was no such thing. That that just was a radical misunderstanding of how the NLF operates. And I believe the civilians were right in this.
And The New York Times actually printed a map in April 1970, proving that whatever headquarters there was, was not in Cambodia but it was in South Vietnam. And those people were over ... this is what I call an intelligence battle, where you have intelligence operators each trying to influence policies by presenting their version of the facts. And the civilians were overruled by the hard evidence that came from the joint chief of staff in the form of radio intercepts that proved that there was this kind of fortress somewhere in Cambodia. And of course the American troops went in. Went right to where the army claimed the fortress was. And it turned out not to exist. Once again, you had the hard evidence in the form of intercept, but no correlative to it in reality.
Nick Egleson: In a situation like the Tonkin Gulf thing, what's the interest of whoever is on the side of provocation, in that case. Seems to be you suggest that that has to do a lot with Laos say at the time of Tonkin.
Peter Dale Scott: Oh yes.
Nick Egleson: And also with the longstanding interest of Air America, and the CIA in Laos, could you explain that more?
Peter Dale Scott: It's very hard to do that in terms of one single incident. But in terms of the whole of 1964, it served the interest of many different factions. Not all of them American. We must remember for example, that the Kuomintang was still thinking and still publicly talking about invading mainland China. In fact the Kuomintang said, I think, they said for some years that 1963 would be the crucial year. My mention about the Tonkin Gulf incident for example that there were Nationalist Chinese on those little patrol boats, that I was talking about. There may have been more Chinese than Vietnamese for all I know. It may well have been Chinese pilots that flew the Air America planes that bombed the villages. It may even have been ... here I'm only speculating - the other two things are more corroborated - but it may be that the Americans were using Chinese personnel to translate from Vietnamese for them, because there was a great shortage of experts in the Vietnamese language for the radio intercepts.
So that they had a stake, there are obviously ... you had to remember that the powerful financial influences in Vientiane, Laos for example, are mostly Chinese that the Asian capitalist population of Saigon is mostly Chinese and Cholon in the district. Something like this is true also in Bangkok and Singapore and so on.
Nick Egleson: What business does the CIA have getting involved with ... What's the root?
Peter Dale Scott: Well, we go back to the 50s, when the McCarthy era, and America had accommodated to the loss of mainland China but this produced, among liberals, almost more than among conservatives, the determination to make a stand in Southeast Asia, on the mainland. And that meant, unfortunately, working with very reactionary elements. The only sort of visible opposition at that time that they could work with was the status quo, which was quite corrupt, which was thoroughly intermingled with opium in that area. The French had relied on the de facto power networks which were set up by the narcotics trade in opium. The CIA inherited this and took it over. I argue in my chapter on heroin, not only took it over, but actually helped build it up.
That source of opium from mainland China had been cut off by the communists. You had a worldwide opium network reaching to America, reaching to Chinatown tongs, right here in America, secret societies. But the opium had been cut off, and this was of course a crisis to the opium industry and the CIA allowed its resources to be used via it's airline. It's quote "private airline" in Southeast Asia. We call it Air America today. It was called Civil Air Transport in those days. It's General Chennault's airline that he set up after World War 2. They allowed that airline, which was 60 percent controlled by the nationalist Chinese, and was based in Taiwan. They allowed it to fly in supplies and even cash. CIA cash to the opium growers and traders. The so called Kuomintang remnants in Northern Thailand and Burma.
Nick Egleson: What did the CIA get out of it?
Peter Dale Scott: It got out of it a network, which reached through the whole of Southeast Asia. It got out particularly in the early 50s, reinforcement for the elements in Malaya that were putting down then insurrection there. Because these were mostly, so called triads or secret societies, Chinese, overseas Chinese with links to the Kuomintang, who were actually hired by the private armies by the mine owners in Malaya to put down the insurrection there. And the British started off by trying to stamp out narcotics in Malaya, but they found that this may end up crushing the secret societies. As this very scholarly book points out, this created a vacuum, which the communist moved into. So the British learned that they had to hold off from this and meanwhile, the CIA indirectly, but I think quite consciously were allowing their resources to be used to build it out. You have to remember that opium is reaching this country in the form of heroin.
Nick Egleson: So that they're essentially they were rather callously trading an increase in heroin use throughout the world for right-wing political support for their rollback strategy in Southeast Asia. Is that a ... ?
Peter Dale Scott: Containment or a rollback. I think some of them were rollback, but ...
Nick Egleson: It's a more right-winged picture of the CIA than I certainly have in general. I think of them ...
Peter Dale Scott: I really don't want ... I think that it's very easy to oversimplify what I'm saying about the CIA there. I think they were yes. Particularly in the far east. A lot of them were right-wing and set up links with the extreme right-wing, particularly in the form of a Kuomintang apparatus. Which, incidentally, I think, also had links to the right-wing Gehlen apparatus in Germany, which the CIA also worked with. However, the CIA also contained liberals and we must remember that some of those OSS veterans had worked with Ho Chi Minh and so on. Particularly when Lansdale went to Indochina for example, in 1955 - I'm just trying to be fair here - he did, one of the first things he did was try to crush the opium network in Cholon, the Chinese suburb of Saigon. Which the French intelligence had used as a kind of control mechanism for Indochina.
Lansdale won the battle in 1955, but I think he lost the war, because three of four years later it was necessary for the Diem regime to restore its links with that network in order to survive, and that's what it is said. I'm making unprovable charges here, but it frequently, it has been claimed that Madame Nhu was involved in that, that Madame Ky was involved in that. Most and many top level people in the present Saigon administration even General Kim's brother.
Nick Egleson: Do you think that that right-wing element in the CIA with ties to the Kuomintang and to narcotics traffic, continues today to operate what we're talking about a period '64 at Tonkin, which is now, seven years ago, eight years ago.
Peter Dale Scott: It's hard for me to analyze it that way because I just don't have the evidence. But what I would say is that certain devices which were perfected over the years for generating incidents, for generating coups, for generating a kind of crisis, to which the American government had to respond, because the intelligence personnel had deliberately made a mess. Then the military had to come in and deal with. Those devices are still practiced. And I suppose, I'll give you two very recent instances, both relate to my book.
The first one would be Cambodia, you remember there was a coup in Cambodia which preceded the invasion. And many people said, what madness this coup was because the only possible stable government there was, which was that of Prince Norodom Sihanouk had now been overthrown.
Nick Egleson: Via more right-wing elements.
Peter Dale Scott: Lon Nol and Sihanouk Tang, who is now the premier and who is the man with the longest links to the CIA in that area, and a man whose efforts to overthrow Sihanouk had been subsidized by the CIA for years. This new, very weak government went right out attacked the troops of the NLF that had taken refuge along the eastern border of Cambodia. And people said, "what madness, how insane", because they can't possibly win against those people. But of course, it wasn't madness. It wasn't insane. It was a way of generating a crisis, which would force the Americans to intervene to back them up. This has been tried so many times and has worked so many times that it was perfectly rational for the Cambodians to expect that it would work in the case of Cambodia 1970.
Most recently, there's been this talk about General Lavelle, who flying these unauthorized attacks against North Vietnam, which were then quite falsely called protective reaction raids. And just last week, Jack Anderson ran a column in which he said this is not the first time this has happened, that something very like this. He first of all points out that it was General Lavelle was doing this in the context of Kissinger's efforts to make some kind of secret deal with the Vietnamese in Paris. It was just like in 1967 when Oberack and Markevitch, who were two friends of Kissinger, were on a secret mission to Vietnam and the joint chiefs or there CINCPAC, dumped a record number of bombs all around Hanoi while they were doing this.
Nick Egleson: That meant even saving up all their authorizations to bomb didn't it? They could use it all at once.
Peter Dale Scott: I have a whole chapter about this in my book. I didn't' know about the General Lavelle thing. I wrote it before the General Lavelle episode in fact. But precisely, what Jack Anderson was talking about in 1967, I have a whole chapter about how we not only bombed Hanoi, but actually bombed Soviet ships in Hai Phong Harbor, bombed Chinese ships. These attacks on Soviet and Chinese shipping occurred regularly at times when there were secret peace negotiations going on with the ... Through the Russians and Chinese.
Nick Egleson: Do they fail to occur when there weren't secret negotiations?
Peter Dale Scott: There's such a high degree of correlation. It's just fantastic. That even when you have a Polish Peace Initiative, that a Polish ship gets attacked. That's the degree of refinement to which this hideous kind of thing was going on. I can't prove that that was the intention but I can draw a little chart and I have, which is two pages long, of attacks on shipping which correlate very closely with the peace initiatives at the time.
Can I just say one more word about that? That is that although we didn't know that at the time, there were periods where Hai Phong Harbor was off limits because of these sensitive peace negotiations. And you find that the greatest number of attacks on shipping are precisely at times when Hanoi and Hai Phong had been put secretly off limits.
Nick Egleson: It seems to me we're talking a serious, not just war more conspiracy in the narrow sense, but many different ones. We've just talked of two of one of elements are the CIA conspiring.
Peter Dale Scott: I call it a syndrome.
Nick Egleson: A syndrome right. Conspiring against the military. Here we're talking about the Joint Chiefs of Staff, perhaps conspiring against Henry Kissinger
Peter Dale Scott: I think, remember, it's not quite that desperate because I think the intention of a lot of the right CIA people was precisely to elevate out of a covert operation into a military operation, so that their entrance and those of the military did coincide.
Nick Egleson: They may have coincided I just meant that they were not necessarily in communication with each other. At least if they were, you weren't talking about it.
Peter Dale Scott: I can't see that, I can only see the outward manifestations.
Nick Egleson: It seems to me, I have in terms of the present situation, is it that obviously this struggle continuing is General Lavelle's action indicate between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the withdrawal policy. Nixon seems more to be connected to Kissinger, it would be hard to see.
Peter Dale Scott: I think in the election year, the Presidents are usually on the side of the negotiators yeah.
Nick Egleson: Who do you think is winning that war of nerves?
Peter Dale Scott: There's a short term answer to that and a long term answer to that. I think in the long term, we have never yet seen a successful deescalation of this war. And I fear in the long term, even if Vietnamization were to work, I think the whole way in which it was set out by Nixon, the way that he always specified that withdrawal of the troops did not apply to the troops on the aircraft carriers and the troops in Thailand and so on. It does not meant a withdrawal from the war. It just means that he wants to win, or at least to maintain US presence by other means. I start, I go all the way back to 1959 and I talk about what were then not military operations, but essentially in covert intelligence activities. I think it's very important to go that far back and look at those. Because that is a situation where you did not have the military in the scene. You only had the intelligence, plus Air America in the scene. That is possibly what we might have in '73-74, if Nixon wins the election. And I think it will represent continuation of the American presence by other means.
I'm not at all sanguine about the ability to get the United States out of Vietnam. I want to remind everyone that it means more than getting the troops out. It means more than getting the planes out. It means that we're no longer going to try and arrange coups, topple governments, and push people around the way we have been doing for over 20 years.
Nick Egleson: The situation that comes my mind is, the situation of the French in Algeria, where the fight between de Gaulle and the right-wing military was very severe.
Peter Dale Scott: Not all together unrelated, may I say.
Nick Egleson: All right, well maybe you should say more about that in a second. But at times, it threatened the stability of the central government in France itself. And the jockeying from de Gaulle's point of view, in order to disengage from Algeria was very extreme. Now, I don't mean to imply that therefore I think Nixon is the Gaulle, obviously I don't think that. But it seem sot me that there is evidence of a great deal of jockeying in order simply to effect the withdrawal of ground troops. My temptation, knowing much less than you do about this is to see for instance the promotion of Abrams to the Joint Chiefs of Staff as an attempt by Nixon to solidify the troop withdrawal position inside the joint chiefs, who have been I think, on the Lavelle side of this controversy. You think that's a reasonable ... ?
Peter Dale Scott: I think that was a very sensible ... words you've put in at this point and of course, no analogy is perfect in history. But I think the suggesting you've raised about comparing the predicament of Nixon, to the predicament of de Gaulle is a very apt one, and one that should indeed be thought about. Of course the trouble de Gaulle had with his generals and with the Secret Army, which emerged ultimately. We should think about all of that. It's not easy I think for most Americans to think of their domestic history in terms of such ... we've become accustomed over the last decade to think of very insidious things going on in Indochina. I think most of us still have this feeling, "it can't happen here." Because what we see when we look around us is much more attractive than that.
Nick Egleson: And much more seemingly stable.
Peter Dale Scott: Right yes, but I'm not going to give you a sort of three minute summary of what's going to happen to this country in the next year, but I do think that there are very powerful sources opposed to even what Nixon proposes to do. Which you might say is a rather conservative kind of withdrawal program. I think you're absolutely right when Kissinger is running into a lot of trouble. I think Nixon in '72 at any rate, will be in a position rather like Johnson in '64, where he was not in a hurry to do hawk-like things, and yet there were people who for that very reason, started chivying and pushing him harder than usual. That is usually the case.
Nick Egleson: The difference, you're suggesting, what are the principle differences between Nixon and de Gaulle, is that De Gaulle's long range intent was a very low profile in Algeria. And that Nixon's intent here is, you would argue, is really to shift the mechanism of conducting the war in Southeast Asia. Is that ... ?
Peter Dale Scott: Now that brings us to a whole aspect of the book that we haven't even talked about, which is economic interests. I think de Gaulle's long term object was, by a political change of policy, to maintain French economic links with the natural resources. In particular the natural gas of Algeria.
Nick Egleson: Which we have just purchased in very large quantities.
Peter Dale Scott: Right. We don't have time for all of that. I think that American intelligence operations including, and Nixon's Vietnamization proposals and Nixon doctrine and so on, also have to do with U.S. interest in long term relationship to the resources of Indochina. Which increasingly appears, despite many protestations of the contrary. It appears that the oil industry suspect that this is a considerable amount of oil in the offshore areas of Indochina. There's one place where they're ... I think they're just about ready to drill, which is in an offshore area, which is claimed by South Vietnam, but which is embarrassingly close to Cambodia. In fact, if it weren't for the odd kinks in the boundary, you would think that they were a part of Cambodian waters, rather than Vietnamese waters.
Some people have claimed that the resources in that South China Sea, the Sunda shelf. It may sometime be an area which will be comparable to the Persian Gulf. It may in fact be one of the largest untapped oil reserves areas of the world. We know that in the great time of increasing talk about the need for long term planning for energy resources, that this sort of area can be extremely important . I think that one can make a military case for having gone into Cambodia in 1970, but what I can also make a case that one wanted at least to secure those offshore waters for the development of the oil. I think it's quite easy to show that the people ... among, if you look start looking at the Vietnam lobby in this country. The prided interest that had been pushing for the same sort of thing that these intelligence agents have been pushing for, we find the oil lobby.
We find a man called William Henderson in 1963, for example. And it's a book and writes a chapter in which he says, in effect, we have to go beyond these covert operations that we've been using in the past. We have to intervene ... We've always been intervening he says. But we have to intervene more in Indochina. We must intervene more frankly and directly than we have been intervening before. This was a message to the Kennedy administration. I think most people know that they're very strong. There's a very high interface between the oil industry and intelligence operations overseas. I think that oil interests have been clearly interested in Indochina at least since about 1963. In fact I haven't checked this out yet but I noticed about the American friends of Vietnam, at a conference in 1958, an organization called Offshore Services was represented way back then. There are a lot of small, not proven, but hints that possibility of offshore oil, people on the inside where aware of it. Back before the second Vietnam war ever really began.
Nick Egleson: And did they like the Pan Am officials that you talk about, also in the book and see it. If he were involved in the war in this hair-trigger relationship, through intelligence. Being able to determine what larger forces did.
We're out of time and I'm sorry about that. It's been very interesting talking to you.
I've been talking to Peter Dale Scott about his book, "The War Conspiracy, the Secret Road to the Second Indochina War" which is about to published by Bobbs Merrill. It's been a pleasure and I hope you're going to keep up this kind of research in the future.
Peter Dale Scott: Thanks very much.